How is freedom of religion or belief practised?
The Oslo Center and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee are cooperating on a project on freedom of religion or belief in Central Asia. Last week the two organizations jointly organised a study visit to Oslo from the Kyrgyz Republic. The pupose of the visit was to learn from Norwegian experiences on how freedom of religion or belief is practiced in Norway, as well as to get insight into inter-religious dialogue and cooperation in Norway.
The delegation consisted of ten bureacrats from the President’s Office. The leader of the delegation was Anarbek Ismailov who is the head of the Legal Support Department in the President’s Office as well as a representative of the President’s Office to the Parliament. Four of the delegates work in the State Commission on Religious Affairs, a commission responsible for development of state policy on religion in the Kyrgyz Republic. Five of the delegates work in the Department of ethnic, religious policies and interaction with civil society in the President’s Office, a department responsible for development of state policies concerning ethnic and religious minorities, as well as the contact with civil society.
During the study visit, the delegation heard presentations by the Chief of the Police Security Service (PST), Benedicte Bjørnland, on threats facing the Norwegian society and PST’s work to fight terrorism, the The Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities about their experiences with institutionalizing inter-religious dialogue and cooperation in Norway, as well as a presentation of the Stålsett-commission’s work on lifestances and religion in the Norwegian society, presented by the leader of the commission, Sturla Stålsett.
Further, the delegation heard presentations by ILPI about religious education in primary schools, and the organisation of the Islamic Council in Norway. The delegation also visited the Theological Faculty and learnt about plans to include Islamic studies at this faculty. The delegation spent one afternoon at the Center for Human Rights where they were given presentations about the work of the center, the work of the Oslo Coalition on freedom of religion or belief, as well as on national minorities in Norway given by the Department of Sami and Minority Affairs in the Ministry of Government Administration, Reform and Church Affairs.
The delegation was also given a presentation of the work of the Romani-Comission, led by former High Commissioner on National Minorities, Knut Vollebæk. The delegation also paid visits to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Holocaust Center, where they heard about MFAs work on ethnic and religious minorites as well as the Holocaust Center’s research on Islamophobia and Antisemittism.
Ed Brown from the Stefanus Alliance gave a lecture on freedom of religion or belief, while Gunnar Ekeløve-Slydahl from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee gave an overview of the Norwegian Ombudsperson’s institutions and the cooperation between the state and civil society. Einar Steensnæs from the Oslo Center and former Minister of Education, gave a presentation on private schools in Norway.
The delegation expressed a wish to continue the cooperation with the Oslo Center and the Helsinki Committee. The two organisations have offered to hold workshops for parlamentarians in Bishkek, tentativly planned for December this year. This would be the first step in following-up this study visit to Oslo.